We have all heard the name Dracula since we were in kindergarten. Especially at Halloween time. What our parents and kindergarten teachers didn’t tell us is that a man named Dracula really did exist and that he really was the prince of darkness. His given name was Prince Vladislaus III Dracula, but he was known as Vlad Tepes, meaning “Vlad the Impaler.” Just as movies and legends tell it, he was born in Transylvania, which at the time was ruled by Hungary. Dracula’s grandfather, Prince Mircea of Old, reigned there as prince from 1386 to 1418. Dracula was the prince of Walachia, a principality of Romania that was founded by a Transylvanian named Radu Negru, or Rudolph the Black. Dracula is known for having fought to keep Walachia independent from the Turks even though they were forced to pay protection taxes to them. He and his descendants continued to rule Walachia for a long time, but under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire of Turkey.
The throne of Walachia was not necessarily passed from father to son. The prince was elected by the country’s boyars, which were land-owning nobles. This, of course, caused fighting and assassinations among family members. Eventually the royal House of Basarab was split into two factions – Mircea’s descendants, and the descendants of another prince named Dan II. Dan’s descendants were called the Danesti.
Grandfather Mircea had an illegitimate son, Vlad, who was born around 1390. He grew up in the court of King Sigismund of Hungary, first probably as a hostage and later as a page. King Sigismund, who became the Holy Roman Emperor in 1410, founded a secret fraternal order of knights called the Order of the Dragon in order to uphold Catholicism and fight Turkey. In other words, its sole purpose was to defeat the Ottoman Empire. Vlad was admitted to the Order, probably in 1431. The boyars of Walachia started to call him Dracul, meaning “dragon.” But Dracul also meant “devil,” perhaps a sign of what was to come. It was Vlad’s second son who came to be known as the Dracula we know of today. King Sigismund made Vlad the Dad the military governor of Transylvania, during which time he lived in the town of Sighisoara (or Schassburg). You can still visit the house where Vlad’s son baby Dracula was born, and today there is a restaurant on the second floor. There is even a mural in the house that may depict Vlad Dracul.
The Dracula we know of was born at the end of the year 1431, the same year his father was made governor of Transylvania. He, too, was given the name of Vlad. He had an older brother, Mircea, and a younger brother, Radu the Handsome. His mother was either a Moldavian princess or a Transylvanian noblewoman. It is said that she educated Dracula in his early years, and that later he was trained for knighthood by an old boyar who had fought the Turks.
Dracula’s father was not content to remain a mere governor forever. During his years in Transylvania, he gathered supporters for his plan to seize Walachia’s throne from Prince Alexandru I, its occupant at that time. And in late 1436 or early 1437 Vlad Dracul killed the prince and consequently became Prince Vlad II. But ruling the principality turned out not to be as simple as Dracula’s father had envisioned. He was a vassal of Hungary, and also had to pay tribute to Hungary’s enemy, Turkey. In 1442 Turkey invaded Transylvania. The new Prince Vlad tried to stay neutral, but Hungary’s rulers forced him, along with his family, out of Walachia. A Danesti was made the new prince.
Dracula’s father bounced right back. The following year, with the help of the sultan of Turkey, he regained the throne. And the next year, when Dracula was only about 13, he sent him to Turkey, along with his younger brother, to prove his loyalty. Both boys spent the next four years there, as hostages. But in 1444 Hungary went to war with Turkey and Hungary demanded that Vlad-the-Dad join the crusade. As a member of the Order of the Dragon, Vlad was sworn to obey this summons. But he didn’t want to anger the Turks either, so he sent his eldest son, Mircea, in his place. The Christian army was demolished, and Vlad and Mircea blamed Janos Hunyadi, the Hungarian general, who was famous for his battles to protect Hungary from Turkish conquest.
1447 must have been a turning point for young Dracula. Both his father and his older brother had been murdered, some say by order of the Hungarian General Hunyadi. Since both were dead, and Dracula and Radu were still in Turkey, Hunyadi was able to put a member of the Danesti clan on the Wallachian throne. The Turks didn’t like having a Hungarian puppet in charge of Walachia, so in 1448, when Dracula was only 17 years old, they freed him and gave him an army. With the help of the Turkish army, Dracula seized the Wallachian throne, but didn’t kill the prince. Little brother Radu the Handsome chose to remain in Turkey, distancing himself from older brother Dracula’s warring. But only for a time.
But Teen Prince Dracula ruled for only two months before Hunyadi forced him into exile in Moldavia. The former prince was immediately reinstated. It seems that Dracula lay low for the next three years, but then the prince of Moldavia was assassinated, and Dracula fled the country. Things got a bit confusing at this time when the Wallachian prince changed sides and became a supporter of Turkey, making Hunyadi sorry he had put him on the throne. He wasn’t the only one to switch sides – Dracula went over to Hunyadi’s side, which caused the general to begin to support Dracula’s attempt to regain the throne. In 1456 Hunyadi invaded Turkish Serbia while Prince Dracula invaded Walachia. Hunyadi was killed, and this time a more mature Dracula killed the reigning prince in order to take back the throne.
Dracula established his capital at Targoviste – you can still see the ruins of his palace there. And nearby a statue of him still stands. He is considered an important figure in Romanian history because he unified Walachia and resisted the influence of foreigners. Romanians generally see him as a symbol of independence and of nationhood. But most non-Romanians remember only his cruelty. This duality is probably a large part of his appeal. After becoming prince this second time, he supposedly invited many beggars along with old, sick and poor people to a banquet at his castle. When his guests had finished eating their meal and were drinking a toast to him, Prince Dracula asked them, “Would you like to be without cares, lacking nothing in the world?” “Of course,” they answered contentedly. So Dracula had the castle boarded up and set it on fire. Nobody made it out alive – and that was the end of their problems, as he had promised. “I did this so that no one will be poor in my realm,” he said. He also said the poor were a burden to their fellow countrymen.
According to another story, Dracula invited 500 boyers to a banquet and asked them how many princes had ruled in their lifetimes. They said they had lived through many reigns. Shouting that this was their fault because of their never-ending plotting, Dracula had them all arrested on the spot. Historians think that he blamed them for contributing to the death of his father and brother. The older ones were impaled; the others were marched 50 miles away to a place called Poenari where they were forced to build a mountaintop fortress. The boyers worked so long that their clothes fell off, and then they were forced to work naked. Most of them died, of course. The few who survived were impaled when the fortress was completed. Of course, Dracula seized the boyars’ property and distributed it among his supporters. In this way he created a new nobility, loyal to him. Impalement, Dracula’s favorite means of execution, was especially sadistic, as victims would suffer excruciating pain for hours, or even days, until death came. Dracula especially liked to impale people sideways. The ruins of the Poenari fortress can still be seen, and it is now called Castle Dracula, but then, several places are called that.
Dracula liked to sit at a banquet table and dine while he watched people die. And he liked to impale many people at once, arranging the stakes in fancy designs. He prided himself on fitting the punishment to the crime. He killed women who had affairs. He supposedly had one woman impaled because her husband’s shirt was too short. He didn’t mind impaling children, either. Afterwards he would display the corpses in public so everyone would learn a lesson. According to German writings, he once captured a young Dan from the rival Danesti clan, and had a grave dug for him. Then he held a funeral service according to Christian custom and beheaded the young noble beside his own grave. For variety, he occasionally had large pots made with boards with holes fastened over them and had people’s heads shoved through the holes, imprisoning them in the pots. Then he had the pots filled with water and a big fire made under them, and let people cry out pitiably until they were boiled to death.
Another German document describes what he did when a tribe of about 300 gypsies came into his country. He selected the best three of them and had them roasted, and then forced the others to eat them. For target practice, he would have people buried naked up to their navels and then shoot at them. He also had some simply roasted or flayed. But despite all this, Dracula’s subjects respected him for fighting the Turks and being a strong ruler; he certainly assured law and order in what were lawless times. He is remembered today as a patriotic hero who stood up to Turkey and Hungary, much like a David facing Goliath. He was the last Wallachian prince to remain independent from the Ottoman Empire. He was so scornful of other nations that when two Italian ambassadors refused to take off their hats to him, he immediately had their hats nailed to their heads. Actually, they did remove their hats, but they kept the berets on that were under the hats, as was the custom in their countries. He was opposed to the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches because he thought that foreigners, operating through the churches, had too much power in Walachia. He tried to prevent foreign merchants from taking business away from his citizens. If merchants disobeyed his trade laws, they were, of course, impaled.
To prove how well his laws worked, Dracula once had a gold cup placed in a public square. Anyone who wanted to could drink from the cup, but no one was allowed to take it away from the square. No one did. There is a revealing story that tells of a visiting merchant who left his money outside all night, thinking that it would be safe because of Dracula’s strict policies. To his surprise, some of his coins were stolen. He complained to Dracula, who promptly issued a proclamation that the money must be returned, or the city would be destroyed. That night Dracula secretly returned the missing money, plus one extra coin, to the merchant. The next morning the merchant counted the money and found, of course, that it had been returned. He told Dracula about this and mentioned the extra coin. Dracula replied that the thief had been caught and would be impaled. In truth, if the merchant hadn’t mentioned the extra coin, the merchant would have been impaled.
In 1462 Dracula attacked the Turks to drive them out of the Danube River Valley, a major trading route. The sultan retaliated by invading Walachia with an army three times larger than Dracula’s. Dracula was forced to retreat to his capital, Tirgoviste. He burned his own villages and poisoned wells along the way so that the Turkish army wouldn’t have any food or water. He even used a form of germ warfare, deliberately sending victims of infectious diseases into the Turkish camps. When the sultan reached Tirgoviste, he saw a terrifying scene, remembered in history as “the forest of the impaled.” There, outside the city, were 20,000 Turkish prisoners, all impaled. In a field about three kilometers long and one kilometer wide, impaled bodies of men, women and children could be seen. The sultan’s officers were too scared to go on – Dracula had won again. But, although the sultan retreated, Dracula’s little brother Radu the Handsome did not. The Turks had provided him with an army in hopes that he could seize Dracula’s throne. Many of Dracula’s boyars abandoned Dracula to join Radu. Radu’s army pursued Dracula to his fortress at Poenari. Dracula’s wife, a sweet noblewoman who was said to have had a heart of gold, was so frightened that she committed suicide by throwing herself from the upper battlements. The Turks seized the castle, but Dracula managed to escape through a secret tunnel. The story goes that a blacksmith helped him escape by reversing the shoes on his horse. Some peasants also helped him and later, to thank them, he gave them a sheepskin, on which he wrote, “I give you, the elders of Aref, 14 mountains and 9 sheepfolds, which you will have forever.” The sheep are gone, but some of the descendants of these people still own mountains.
Dracula went to King Matthias Corvinus, the new king of Hungary, for help. Instead, the king had him imprisoned in a tower. Dracula remained exiled in Hungary while Radu ruled Walachia as a puppet for the Turks. After four years, Dracula was allowed to move into a house. He became a Catholic to please the Catholic Hungarians. He ingratiated himself with the Hungarian royal family, and even married one of its members, to strengthen the power bond. But he was still the same old Dracula. He impaled rats and birds for fun. Once a thief broke into his house and a Hungarian captain followed on his heels to arrest him. Dracula didn’t kill the thief. He killed the officer. Why? Because the officer was a gentleman and should have known not to enter a house uninvited.
In 1473, Dracula’s brother Radu lost the Walachian throne to a member of the Danesti clan. Radu the Handsome died of syphilis 2 years later, and the year after that Dracula again invaded Walachia with the help of Moldavia and Transylvania. Once again, he became Walachia’s prince. Most of Dracula’s army then went home to Transylvania. But the Turks attacked a few months later, and Dracula was killed while fighting near Bucharest in December of 1476. Some say he died at the hands of a Turkish assassin posing as a servant, and others claim that he was accidentally killed on the battlefield by his own men because he had disguised himself as a Turk to confuse the enemy. The sultan displayed Dracula’s head on a pike in Constantinople to prove that he was dead. His body was taken by monks and buried at the island monastery of Snagov. They kind of owed Dracula a good deed because he had funded the rebuilding of its monastery years earlier. And that was the end of Dracula’s story until 1931, when his burial place was excavated, and there was no sign at all of his coffin!
Much was written about Prince Dracula during his lifetime, and shortly thereafter. But nowhere is it recorded that he was a vampire until an Irishman, Bram Stoker, published a gothic novel in 1897, using the name Dracula, but downgrading him to a count. Many other books came from this first novel, and also theatrical, film and television productions. But they have little to do with the real Prince Dracula, whom you now know.
FYI is an acronym, and an acronym is a word formed by combining the first letters of each word of a name, such as NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) that is frequently seen in the news. Another one you probably know is AIDS, which is an acronym for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Sometimes acronyms are pronounced as a word as in NATO and AIDS, and sometimes the letters are pronounced individually, such as FYI (for your information). And most of the time they are not even pronounced, as they are used mostly in social media, business communication and Internet. But we do hear CNN (Cable News Network) reporters saying ASAP frequently, which means As Soon As Possible and is hard to pronounce.
Sometimes acronyms become words, such as the word scuba. Everybody knows that word, but few know it started out as an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.
Another acronym that became a word is laser, which began as the acronym Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Most of us are very pleased that these two words became acronyms.
For now, try to incorporate FYI and ASAP into your daily communications, and don’t spend too much time remembering what AIDS and LASER and SCUBA really mean. But you should be able to recognize NATO as it has become a big issue in North America and Europe.
Here are six business acronyms that you should know if you are a businessperson, and maybe aspire to if you are in middle management. Which one would be the lowest stress and the highest salary?